Inside the Weird World of 3D Printed Body Parts


Developing the technology for a “bioprinting” industry where printers lay down layers of living cells.

Cell biologists have been culturing cells and attempting to fabricate larger structures for decades. The advantages delivered by 3D printing, says Boland, are in its precision, flexibility and speed. Different types of cells can be placed in specific locations much more quickly than one could achieve by hand. Speed is of the essence, because the slower the process of assembly, the more likely it is that the cells will die. Using multiple printer heads containing solutions of different cell types and gels, extraordinarily complicated structures can be constructed in short periods of time.

Putting cells in position swiftly is only the beginning. Figuring out how to keep them alive is widely acknowledged as the biggest obstacle scientists face in achieving the holy grail of building fully functional organs that can be transplanted into human bodies.

Let’s review: a one-time PETA-funded synthetic meat researcher who believes that eventually we will be bioprinting complete humans with bio-chipped brains is now hard at work using 3D printers to fabricate mouse thyroid glands in Russia. This is not the plot of the next Thomas Pynchon novel. This is cold hard reality.